Pictou, Nova Scotia was my birthplace. You may not be familiar with Pictou, but in 1820 it was nearly as well-known as Montreal. I grew up in a close-knit family which valued education. I loved geology and collected fossils from an early age. I delivered my first scientific paper on the "The Structure and History of the Earth" to the Pictou Literary and Scientific Society when I was 16. I had opportunities to share and study the geology of the Maritime Provinces with leading geologists Charles Lyell and William Logan.
Throughout my life I studied palaeobotany, which is the study of plant fossils. I discovered parallels between the geographical and geological distribution of plant forms. I used my knowledge of fossilized plants to deduce the climatic conditions in which they grew. I am considered to be the North American grandfather of Palaeozoic Palaeobotany.
I spent the second part of my career in Montreal as the principal of the University of McGill College. I was the first president of the Botanical Society of Montreal in 1856 and of the Royal Society of Canada in 1882. At different times I was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Nobody else has ever done that!